Online Fraud Scam

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This article describes a scam which was attempted through the popular online buy-and-sell site known as Gumtree. Links to advice from Gumtree on how to avoid scams like this are provided at the end of this article.

What started as a message enquiring about a motorbike for sale in Western Australia developed into a bizarre attempt to have the bike shipped at the sellers' expense; a payment by the seller to a company in China via Western Union; and an expectation of payment for the item through PayPal after the seller had sent $950 to the purchaser's agent!.

The dialogue is presented as a sequence of steps which show how the scammer intended to hook the seller into parting with funds instead of receiving some.

The saga, step-by-step

Step 1

I advertised a motorbike for sale on Gumtree. The advertisement had photographs, a good description and contact details.

Step 2

An interested person who I will call Jim contacted me about the bike and asked quite reasonable questions, including its' history and reason for sale.

Jim said he was working on a mine site so could not see the bike himself.

Jim said he wanted to buy it for his son, and would arrange for a courier to transport it.

I replied to Jim with answers to each of his questions.

Step 3

Jim replied: "Hello mate please send me your PayPal email so I can make arrangements with the payment "

I replied, thanking him for his interest in the bike, and confirmed that the email address I used was linked to my PayPal account.

Four minutes later, Jim replied "Ok mate I will let you know when payment is done and you will recieve a payment notification in your email ...thanks"


I didn't keep all of the emails between myself and 'Jim'. As soon as I blocked the account my access to previous email was lost. There was another exchange of emails between steps 2 and 3 which reframed the original questions about the bike.

In hindsight, several of the emails from 'Jim' were like someone 'cut and pasted' paragraphs as the scam was developing. The language changed and content became inconsistent.

For example, I recall Jim writing that he was on a mine site and using email because SMS and mobile phone coverage was limited. But the email at step 4 implies that he was on board a ship.

For someone apparently at work, Jim was also able to respond to email quickly - 4 minutes at step 3!

Step 4

About five hours later I received an email as follows:-

Hello again mate,I was just about to pay when i had this problem with the
pick up, my pick up agent says i will need to pay for the
pick up before they can schedule a pick up time, they
charged me $950 for pick up and delivery, and payments
for pick up made through them is made to their corporate in china
international headquarters in china
and the payments is made through western union money
transfer, i will add the $1000 to the money i will send
through paypal as soon as i have made the payments, i will
email you and let you know and please i will need you to
help me send the money to my pick up agent
through western union money transfer, this can be done
from any post office ,there is always western union money
transfer section in most post offices(you can do it online as
well at (,i would have done it
myself but i can't because I didnt bring my credit card
aboard, i am a little incapacitated.I will appreciate your help here


The 'hook' in the initial approach was to offer full payment for the item through PayPal. This is a secure method of payment although the purchaser would have to trust that I would release the bike to a courier after having received the payment.

The scam involves a prior payment of $950 via Western Union, to pay for a courier, with the expectation of $1000 to be included with payment for the item via PayPal.

Note that the 'purchaser' is unable to pay for the courier because they do not have a credit card with them. Somehow their problem becomes your problem, if you let it. The emotion the scammer plays on is that if you really want to make the sale you will help to make it happen.

No doubt the email exchanges would have become more bizarre if the dialogue had continued!

Step 5

Thankfully, a local person was keen to see the bike that same day. He came to see it, prepared to buy it if he liked it and had the cash with him. When he offered less than I wanted but could pay there and then I accepted. A 'no brainer' really. And the satisfied purchaser rode it home.

I emailed Jim to say that I had sold the bike to a local purchaser. Being diplomatic I apologised for any disappointment (even though I knew it was a scam attempt).

Then I blocked the email address which had been used.

I have written articles about other scam attempts but this one had a greater emotional toll than the others. I hope the insight or example here is helpful. The advice directly from Gumtree could help more people avoid scams, if it was more accessible.

Advice from Gumtree

The following links are from the Support section of the Australian Gumtree site at

1. Types of Scams on Gumtree
2. Scams to avoid
and (a related article)
3. Recent Scam Trends in Jobs